Located 1,700 km – or a 3-hour and 40-minute plane ride – from Tahiti, the Gambier archipelago is the remotest island chain in French Polynesia. Its majesty resides in its deep lagoon.
Sapphire, indigo, turquoise... the vistas of the Gambiers are rich in color. And for good reason: the archipelago, surrounded by 90 kilometers of coral reef, is made up of 14 small mountainous islands, each of them unique. The three largest are Aukena, Akamaru, and Taravai. The main island and seat of government, Mangareva, is the only island that is permanently inhabited, by a population of 1,200 people.
The islands’ lozenge-shaped lagoon offers relatively cool waters hospitable to the production of quality pearls. The Gambiers’ 129 pearl farms (owned by 14 companies) employ 1,800 workers. Tourism remains relatively undeveloped, due to the distance from Tahiti and flight costs.
The archipelago has definite potential, however. Its tropical maritime climate provides cool temperatures (12°C in July) favorable to the growth of vegetation such as coconut trees, palm trees, pandanus (screw pines), tiare flowers, breadfruit trees, grapefruit trees, and even coffee plants, which produce a unique variety that is among the world’s most flavorful. (See article by Géraldine Danon : Tuesday August 31)
The history of the Gambiers is also unique. First populated in the 18th century, they had been noticed by English pirate Edward Davis in 1687, then in 1797 by James Wilson of Great Britain, who named them after the admiral supporting his mission. It was not until 1826 that Frederick Beechey set foot on the island. In 1834, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Mary and Jesus, of Poitiers, France, launched the first Catholic mission there. French explorer Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville landed there four years later. The islands became a French protectorate in 1844, without ratification by the French government, and were officially annexed by France in 1881.
The Gambier archipelago has lost none of its charm since then, and its magnificent beaches remain unspoiled.
Text : Neoplanète